So, you are going to study film. Congratulations! Film production is a tough nut to crack, and getting on to your chosen course is a huge achievement. That is not to say that going down the study route is the be all and end all, but it can be useful. It is the route that I chose, therefore the one I know most about.
Full disclosure: after working in the industry for a while, I decided that the production side of it was not the best choice for me at the time. Still, I learned a lot from the experience and my studies, but there was so much I wish I had known at the time.
With this in mind I have compiled a wee list of things I wish I had known before studying, and working in, film production - take this as a cautionary tale if you will!
LOVE YOUR IDEA
Filmmaking is a team process, yes, but it is also a competitive one.
When I was an undergraduate, every student had to pitch an idea for a Grad film in our final year. Out of 13 students, only 3 ideas were developed into films. Everyone thinks their idea is the best, so why should yours be any different?
If you are pitching an idea against other people, you have to fight for it. And to fight for it, you need to love it. After all, why should a Producer bank roll a film that its creator is not invested in? Why would people want to watch it?
From the inception of an idea, through to a draft script, you have to really believe in what you are selling. Your script might change through the development process. You might change characters, scenarios, settings, and endings, but that basic idea - your USP - has got to be something that is worth fighting for. That will shine through, above anything else.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
When I started my film course I assumed that my photography background would make me a natural with a camera. I thought I was a Director of Photography (DoP) in the making, just waiting to be untapped. But, once we started camera classes, it did not come naturally to me at all.
I really struggled, and it got me down. No matter how hard I tried, something did not quite click. The more it went on, I felt lost, and halfway through my degree felt like I had made a huge mistake.
At the end of my second year, everyone had to help out on each other’s short films. Somehow I ended up working as the sound department on all of ‘em - probably because everyone else wanted to be a DoP. That was when something really clicked.
Sure, it was still complicated. I did not understand the technicalities right away. Yet, when I did, I knew I had found my ‘thing’. At the start of my course I would have never considered hoisting a boom mic up and standing with it over my head, but that is the beauty of learning a craft. Your talents might just take you by surprise.
KNOW YOUR ROLE AND INTERESTS
Throughout your film education you might be fortunate enough to attend delegate events, festivals or networking opportunities. If you are like me, that idea will strike fear into your heart. It might not; you might be naturally chatty and at ease with people, and this will definitely stand you in good stead with networking. But, if you would rather retreat into a corner, remember this: you deserve to be there.
You are on your course through your own merit and hard work. You have as much of a chance of making it in the industry as anyone else. If you do find networking events challenging, it helps to concentrate on areas which interest you. It is the same principle as pitching an idea; if you are genuinely enthusiastic, people will remember it.
USE YOUR CONTACTS
Whilst you are at university or college, your lecturers will either be industry practitioners or have contacts in the business. Use this to your advantage. That is how I got my first job - a week after graduating!
That being said, it will help to have some ideas of your own, too. Very few opportunities are simply going to land on your lap, so… Research people who are working in your chosen field. Look at the kind of projects they are making. Find out about your local arts council funding. Are there any good apprenticeship or training schemes? Who is working in your chosen field and what are they working on?
Do not worry about being a pest. People expect it. Take it from me; I hate approaching people. I feel like I am being annoying. However, when I went out on a limb and contacted people, guess what? I got responses. Not all of them were a yes, but a couple did lead to jobs. A lot of getting into the film industry is who you know, so you are gonna have to put yourself out there.
PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE
The film industry is based on reputation. If you are a grafter who is not afraid of mucking in, helping out, and have an idea of where you want to go, it will work in your favour.
This does not have to mean approaching people though. You can stand out by making your own work, or helping friends with their projects. Look at ways in which you can make yourself stand out. Whether it is making your own films on the side, blogging, vlogging, or any other kind of content creation, it shows initiative. That you are willing to put the work in, even when you do not have to.
Sure, luck can sometimes play a hand. People who know people can sometimes get ahead. The actual process of filmmaking, though, is what separates those who want to be there from those who think they do.